WORK on a £90 million shopping development on the edge of York has been delayed by months – because of newts.

The company behind the Monks Cross scheme, which will include John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Next stores, says construction will now not start until the spring, after the number of great crested newts – a protected species – “rocketed”.

Oakgate (Monks Cross) Ltd hoped to start building towards the end of last year or early this year and the John Lewis store was earmarked to open by Christmas 2013. Its opening will now be delayed until Easter 2014, at the same time as M&S and Next.

The developers and City of York Council said the discovery that the local newt population had risen from five to more than 300 in one season would not delay the 6,000-seater community stadium for York City FC and York City Knights, nor the community facilities. The shopping scheme will unlock funding for the stadium, work on which is due to start in summer 2014 and last a year.

The council approved the new superstores last May and the Government subsequently decided not to call the development in for a public inquiry, despite opponents claiming they would damage city-centre businesses. Oakgate has said the scheme will create 1,000 new jobs and boost York’s economy by millions of pounds a year.

The newts have to be individually caught and rehomed at a £300,000 wetland beside the Monks Cross Park&Ride. Oakgate director Richard France said: “Naturally, I’m disappointed work cannot start as early as we would have liked it to. However, we take our responsibility to the environment seriously and are making sure all the newts are appropriately rehomed, in line with our legal requirements.”

He said if all now went to plan, the shops would all open in spring 2014 and the stadium would be unaffected.

Mr France said talks with potential operators to run restaurants and kiosks on the complex were “progressing well”.

Principal ecologist Dr Mark Hampton said the wet 2012 summer meant the newts had “an exceptionally successful breeding season” and were now hibernating, meaning their capture and rehoming would have to wait until the weather improved.

“They usually start emerging again when temperatures are consistently above 5C so, at the moment, it’s just a rather frustrating waiting game,” he said.

Len Cruddas, chief executive of Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Despite this delay, the Monks Cross development will be a huge economic boost for York.

“It is disappointing and frustrating that, once again, a major development project in York is being held up for this reason, but we just have to accept that due process will take place.”

Great crested newts – the facts

• Great crested newts, pictured, are the UK’s largest newt species.

• They are black or dark brown, with adults being as long as 15cm nose to tail.

• Under rules laid down by Natural England – the authority which enforces newts’ protected status – developers have to lay humane traps to catch them and check them every day during the capture period. All newts which are caught must then be transferred to a designated habitat, and rehoming can only be considered complete when no newts have been caught on five consecutive days.

• They are found throughout the country but there is no pattern to their population and they have disappeared from many areas.

• They have full protection under UK law, making it an offence to kill, injure, capture, disturb or sell them, or to destroy or damage their habitats.